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Author Michael Crichton Dies Of Cancer

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next we'll remember an author who created his own world by bringing to life the anxieties of the world we share. Michael Crichton was best known for "Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain," and other thrillers about science gone wrong. He died of cancer at age 66. He leaves behind books that sold millions of copies and sometimes became blockbuster movies. Here's NPR's Lynn Neary.

LYNN NEARY: Michael Crichton was supposed to become a doctor, but somewhere along the line he left science behind in favor of science fiction. While still a medical student, Crichton began writing paperback novels under pseudonyms in order to earn extra money. Then, as he explained in an NPR interview, something started happening.

Dr. MICHAEL CRICHTON (Science Fiction Writer): Instead of writing thrillers to pay for my train bills, I was actually now going to medical school in order to have something to write about. We would all be standing around a patient with our instructor, and everybody would be making notes about the patient and I would be making notes about the doctors.

NEARY: In Crichton's fictional world, science and technology have a way of going awry. In his first big hit under his own name, "The Andromeda Strain," a deadly microorganism brought to earth aboard an American space probe threatens a small town. In "Prey," the threat comes from nanotechnology. And in "Jurassic Park," its dinosaurs brought back to life by ancient DNA.

(Soundbite of movie "Jurassic Park")

Mr. SAM NEILL: (As Dr. Alan Grant) How fast are they?

Sir RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) Well, we clocked the T-Rex at 32 miles an hour.

Ms. LAURA DERN: (As Dr. Ellie Sattler) T-Rex?

Sir RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) Mmm-Hmm.

Ms. LAURA DERN: (As Dr. Ellie Sattler) You said you've got a T-Rex?

Sir RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) Aha.

Mr. SAM NEILL: (As Dr. Alan Grant) Say again.

Sir RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) We have a T-Rex.

NEARY: A number of Crichton's books were made into films, which led to a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter and producer. In 1994, he used his background in medicine to create one of the most enduring TV shows ever, the hospital drama "ER."

(Soundbite of "ER" theme tune)

NEARY: Crichton courted controversy in the scientific world with his critique of global warming, the subject of his 2004 book "State of Fear." But as he told NPR, he never lost his interest in scientific discoveries.

Dr. CRICHTON: There is an idea of, you know, informing people about some emerging things. And part of that is just a reflection of my own interest, following different areas and saying, you know, look what they're doing now. I mean, this is really interesting. You know, they're going to - there's this guy in Australia who's getting DNA fragments out off fossils. Hey, all right.

NEARY: Crichton's death came after what his family described as a private and courageous struggle with cancer. In announcing his death, the family called him a great storyteller who challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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